Over 250 companies, promoting more than 2000 products and services. It’s a lot for the average L&D professional to take in during the annual Learning Technologies (#LT17UK) treasure hunt – so what is it that actually makes a great company or a new offer stand out from the crowd at Britain’s favourite L&D event?

Over the past eight years we’ve been collating instant feedback from show visitors via our independent exit poll. By asking visitors to recall the stands that stood out, the seminars that sounded superb and the products that held most potential, we’ve managed to map out the marketing initiatives most likely to click with visitors as they roam Learning Tech’s alleys and size up its seminars.

So what should exhibitors be thinking about as they get prepped to impress this week?  Our hotlist distills eight years of exit polling down to the key marketing essentials that most visitors want to see more of.

1. Visitors don’t like being sold to at seminars

Whenever our exit pollers have asked Learning Tech visitors to study the seminar timetable and pick out a talk that sounded really interesting, not one of them has ever picked a topic that mentioned a product or an exhibiting company. It’s not that exhibiting companies or their products don’t interest show visitors, they almost certainly do – so long as they know which problem a new product is going to help them solve. Seminars with titles like “Product X™ from Company Y™: the new assessment tool for today” send a shiver up the average visitor’s spine these days. They brace themselves for the big sell and, perhaps most importantly, they really don’t think they’re going to learn anything that’s not already on the company website if they attend. Seminar topics like GoodPractice’s “Online engagement: what to do if you build it and they don’t come”, work better because they focus on an issue, hold cross-sector appeal and box in the topic.

2. Get to know LT’s visitors before the show starts

You don’t score on the day without training hard all year. The vast majority of visitors at Learning Tech do some pre-visit planning, so getting noticed before the event is critical. Pre-event direct mail has a role to play here but it’s not an easy option: Visitors often recall receiving emails inviting them to “come visit us at stand X, Y or Z”, when what they’re really looking for a compelling reason for why they should visit.

Pre-publicity needs to focus on the “What’s in it for me factor” by breaking down complex messages and communicating in bitesize chunks. One off eShots, isolated newsletters or social campaigns carry little weight at the best of times, so actioning one of these in the build-up to the country’s biggest trade show has about as much impact as sending a cheap card at Christmas.

3. Be seen (a lot) on Learning Technologies online channels

The Learning Tech show website is always a frequently mentioned research resource by the diligent pre-planner. Learningtechnologies.co.uk plays a primary roll in influencing which conferences or seminars a visitor attends much more than which companies to see in the main exhibition area. Here’s where visitor demand for strong compelling content raises its head again. Exhibitors recognised as issues champions and thought-leaders will always be able to make a strong case for appearing in LearningTechnologies.co.uk’s news and features sections, but the key phrase is “relevance“. Company profiles or product sheets, even when they feature big name customers, just don’t make the grade and these days.

4. Remember the people who aren’t even there: they might be more important than the people who are

The internet has changed the profile of the classic trade show visitor dramatically and many five-star prospects these days choose to watch over the proceedings from the comfort of their own desktop than roam the avenues and alleyways at Olympia 2. It helps visitors if exhibitors anticipate this and adopt tactics that build brand fans online. Exhibitors need to ensure that the content, product details or key messages they’re pushing out to visitors at the show are available online, preferably packaged up into one, easy to use micro-site that’s dedicated to the event. This allows visitors to easily communicate and share the new products and services they’ve discovered at the show, with co-workers and fellow decision makers who might not have attended.

5. iPads and Kindles are more memorable than the companies who give them away

Visitors commenting in our exit polls always note the volume of desirable objects on offer at Learning Technologies, but the names of the companies promising to dish them out have usually become a bit of a blur by the time visitors see the daylight of Hammersmith Road. As a pure-play data capture exercise, these big(ish) ticket prize giveaways may have some value (typically a visitor is trading personal contact details for the opportunity to win) but the evidence from our exit poll really leaves us wondering. When we speak to visitors who say they participated in some kind of a lucky draw usually they did so as part of a larger dialogue with the exhibiting company. So – if this dialogue is compelling, shouldn’t the attendee be happy to offer over a business card anyway. If it’s not, and visitors still offer their contact details purely on the basis that they may be one iPad to the good if they do, then isn’t the competition masking some serious flaws in the sales dialogue? Overall, the main conclusions we can draw here is that delegate rarely really remember if they have entered a competition, care about the outcome or can link prizes with the companies offering them. Individual, smaller giveaways were slightly more memorable. Or perhaps we’re just sore because we never win!

More: Top 100 best websites in L&D (#LT17UK special edition)

See every #LT17UK visitor ranked in order of popularity. Simples!

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